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Putins Announce Divorce, Chess Great Kasparov Flees Russia

Plus, Baku takes another jab at freedom of expression and protesters blockade Bosnia’s parliament. by S. Adam Cardais, Vladimir Matan, and Molly Jane Zuckerman 7 June 2013

1. ‘Our marriage is over,’ Russia’s first couple says


Following a rare public appearance, Russian President Vladimir Putin and wife Lyudmila announced the end of their 30-year marriage on Russian television 6 June, Radio Free Europe reports.


The Putins at his inauguration in May 2012. Photo by the Kremlin press office.


While it’s unclear whether the couple is already legally divorced, Reuters notes, the two said the marriage was over because they live apart and rarely see each other due to the president’s busy schedule and public life. The first lady called the split “civilized,” saying the two would “always remain close.”


The announcement came after the couple attended the ballet at the Kremlin Palace the same evening, their first public appearance since Putin’s May 2012 inauguration for his presidential third term, the BBC reports.


RIA Novosti points out that the first lady has made few public appearances since Putin’s second presidential term ended in 2008. This has fueled speculation about everything from her health to the state of the couple’s relationship.


In 2008, Russian media reported that Putin planned to leave Lyudmila for Alina Kabayeva, a legislator and former gymnast. Putin balked, but rumors persisted and came to a head again in May 2009 amid reports that Kabayeva gave birth to a baby without releasing the father’s name.


Putin and Lyudmila Shkrebneva were married in 1983. They have two daughters.


2. Fearing arrest, Kasparov will not return to Russia


Chess great turned opposition firebrand Garry Kasparov has left Russia indefinitely on fears that he will be arrested, the latest in a string of high-profile flights from what critics call a creeping autocracy, Bloomberg reports.

Garry Kasparov

“Right now, I have serious doubts that I would be able to travel out again if I returned to Moscow,” Kasparov said in a post on his website from Geneva. “For the time being, I am refraining from returning to Russia.”


Kasparov said he might be part of an investigation of opposition protesters who clashed with police before Putin’s inauguration in May 2012, RIA Novosti reports. Twelve people were charged with mass disorder and went before a judge 6 June in what Kremlin critics are calling a Soviet-style show trial, Reuters reports. They face prison terms if convicted.


Last month, Kasparov insisted he would not leave Russia, but in a 6 June Facebook post he said, “Adding another victim to the regime’s list will not do much good,” RIA Novosti reports.


Kasparov’s flight follows that of economist Sergei Guriev, who left Russia last week for fear of being arrested for his work on a report criticizing the imprisonment of oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Masha Gessen, a prominent journalist who wrote a biography of Putin, recently said she plans to move to New York.


Meanwhile, opposition leader Alexei Navalny faces several indictments that he says are Putin’s revenge for his role in organizing the protests that erupted after Russia’s controversial parliamentary elections in December 2011.


At 22, Kasparov became the youngest ever World Chess Champion, in 1985. He has become a strident Kremlin critic and was allegedly beaten by Russian authorities after being detained in August while protesting outside the court where members the feminist punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison on “hooliganism” charges.


3. Azerbaijani president signs online defamation law


Online defamation is now a criminal offense in Azerbaijan, Radio Free Europe reports.


President Ilham Aliev has signed legislation to criminalize defamatory and offensive web posts, opening the door for the prosecution of online activists. Those convicted face up to three years in prison, according to RFE.


The changes expand existing legislation criminalizing libel.


Legislators passed the bill in May. Rights groups such as Amnesty International called it Baku’s attempt to stifle free expression ahead of presidential elections in October, which Aliev is expected to win despite public opposition to a new term.


In a statement, the Baku-based Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety called the new legislation “a major blow to freedom of expression ahead of a presidential election in the already tightly controlled environment.”


Azerbaijan has one of the worst human rights records in the former Soviet Union. The international watchdog Freedom House classifies it as “not free” in its most recent annual survey of global rights and civil liberties, and Reporters Without Borders includes Aliev on its list of “predators of press freedom.”


4. Bosnians block parliament in show of frustration


Around 3,000 people blocked Bosnia’s parliament building in Sarajevo 6 June protesting what they say is a government paralyzed by ethnic bickering the Associated Press reports.

The protesters formed a chain around the building, trapping inside lawmakers, their staff, and visitors – more than 1,500 people, according to a statement from parliament cited by AP.


Some officials tried to escape the building through windows but were turned back by protesters shouting “Go back to work!”


The action started as a small protest over the government’s failure to pass a new law on state-issued identification documents after the old one expired in February. Babies born since then have not been able to obtain a national identification number.


The issue hit the public eye via media reports on 3-month-old Belmina Ibrisevic, who could not get urgent medical treatment abroad because her parents could not get her a passport without an identification number. She was issued a temporary number.


The ID law is on hold because lawmakers from the country’s two ethnically aligned divisions are arguing over how the numbers should be assigned. Bosnia’s Croat and Muslim members of parliament want them to be issued randomly, while Serb lawmakers want a specific type of number for those living in the Serb half of Bosnia, according to AP.


The Croats and Muslims share the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while most of the country’s Serbs live in the Republika Srpska, whose leaders periodically threaten to secede.


“The essence of the problem is that representatives of the three groups in Bosnia have never given up their wartime goals,” AP notes.


With a weak central government and parliament, in addition to separate parliaments for each of the two regions and multiple local governments, Bosnia is, AP notes, “one of the world's most over-governed countries.”


The demonstration continued long into the night with more people joining, including the mayor of Sarajevo, which is in the Federation half of Bosnia.


The protest spread to the city of Zenica, and people in Banja Luka, in Republika Srpska, and predominantly Croat Mostar also expressed their support, according to Al Jazeera.


“This is not just about the ID number. It is about their attitude toward us. It is about how unimportant we are to them as citizens,” one protester told AP.


5. Crime boss’s early release costs top Kyrgyzstani official his job


Shamil Atakhanov, one of Kyrgyzstan's deputy prime ministers, resigned 6 June after a scandal surrounding the April release of crime kingpin Aziz Batukaev.


Atakhanov cited the reason for his sudden departure as “dissension in the cabinet,” according to Radio Free Europe.


Batukaev went free seven years into a 16-year sentence for racketeering and murder. His release was based on a diagnosis of acute leukemia that a parliamentary commission later said had been falsified. The commission then called for the resignation of several government officials, including Atakhanov and the state prison chief, reports.


FerghanaNews reported on 22 May that lawmakers blame Atakhanov, the national security chief, for Batukaev’s early release as he “coordinates the law enforcement and power wielding bodies.”


Alleged Kyrgyz crime kingpin Kamchi Kolbayev, a rival of Batukaev, is in the middle of a trial that also appears tainted with corruption, Kairat Osmonaliev, a former adviser at the Interior Ministry, told


“Witness after witness keeps changing their testimony. It is a classic Al Capone-type scenario. He is holding up very well,” Osmonaliev said.  


Aida Baydzhumanova, a member of the nonprofit Citizens Against Corruption, decries the two cases as examples of the “weakness of the rule of law” in Kyrgyzstan, a country that has long been associated with strong criminal networks that the central authority rarely punishes for fear of setting off instability, reports. The country has seen two governments toppled violently in the past decade.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Vladimir Matan and Molly Jane Zuckerman are TOL editorial interns.

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